Ryokan Second Impressions
After our first experience we were not too impressed with staying in a traditional Japanese room. You paid the same as a decent hotel to then sleep on the floor and you even had to make your own bed! It was like camping but inside! For the price you’d expect a bit more. The room itself had been rather small, so you couldn’t relax with green tea and have your bedding out at the same time; you either sat around the table or had the bed out.
However, the next place we were staying at was in Magome in order to walk to next post town of Tsumago. Magome to Tsumago is a popular walking route and is raved about in the Lonely Planet and by people who have already undertaken it. It was part of a route from Kyoto to Tokyo though the Japanese Alps. Around this built up post towns. Japan recognised the importance of keeping these towns as heritage sites when they were busily developing. The towns are now designated national treasures and have become tourist honeypots with locally made products available to buy from the beautifully crafted dark wood houses.
We had to be at the Ryokan before 6pm. This is because there was a meal package included in our room rate. Along with a room for the night you also have a traditional Japanese dinner and breakfast included. It was not much more than the first ryokan, ¥3000 or £18 extra. To eat what we had for dinner in a restaurant would have cost us ¥5-10,000 per person depending on the quality and reputation of the place.
The ryokan was empty when we arrived. We were warmly greeted and shown around. Our room was a family room, it was huge. We had a separate lounge area with a small table as the focal point. Then through the Shoji doors was the bedroom and also a private toilet. It was the only room that has a private toilet, complete with toilet slippers. The bed was already laid out and made. There was also a traditional robe for us. All very civil and polite.
We had time to have a quick bath before dinner. The bathing area was quite cosy. There were two showers at the side of the bath, which was covered by a mat to keep in the heat. The bath was in essence a really big version of a British bath, more akin to a hot tub.
At 6pm on the dot we sat down to our meal. Neither of us really like raw fish or miso soup but we both wanted to experience a good ryokan with the food included. The food looked delicious with each small portion placed on a particular dish. It was a work or art! On top of that it was locally grown with the rice coming from the owners padi field, the vegetables from the garden and the fish caught by the owner. The taste was also very good. I feared the poached fish would be overpowering but it was extremely well cooked and tasted very nice. There were separate sauces for each dish, one for the sashimi, another for the tempura and some others for the rice and chicken. The sauces are somewhat overpowering so it is best to dip lightly. There were 10 different dishes plus rice and also tea to accompany the food. It was probably one of the best meals of the trip.
Another difference to the last place we stayed in was that the owners’ offered a dancing and singing experience. Now I can neither dance nor sing but thought it was different and dragged Andrew along at 8pm. There were only 4 of us staying in the lodge as well. The lady from Switzerland stopped by on her way to the bath so completed the dancing in her kimono. The owner had a fantastic singing voice so we let him entertain us while we pretended to sing and dropped in a few murmours here and there. He could also dance. We gave the samurai dance a go and found out it is performed in a festival and also at weddings. The accompanying song has 300 verses and the locals take it in turns to sing and dance a few verses then another member of the village takes there turn. We danced around a lantern in traditional Japanese sandals.
The bed was more comfortable than our last experience as we had a futon then another mattress on top. We had to be up at 7.30am for breakfast. Breakfast was also a good spread with fish, miso soup, salad and potato salad. Enough to make you ready for the day.
This experience was a much more positive and immersive one. It may have been more touristy than before but we found out about the area despite the owners’ not really speaking English. The building was beautiful. It was dark wood and had a traditional hearth in the entrance just like in the folk villages we went to.
We both really liked our stay here despite having to get up early. Andrew went back to sleep for half an hour anyhow. It was in an ideal location for the start of our walk. The village itself was also full of tradition wooden buildings. A real highlight of our trip.
Posted from here.